Auxiliary Services: Their Effect on the Bottom Line

Fiscal officer, contract manager and student affairs leaders are all associated with Auxiliary Services on a college or university campus. Today’s higher-learning environment compels us to add the term educator to the list. For an auxiliary to function at the highest level on a college campus and to truly maintain an eye on the bottom line, every employee in the organization must operate as educators. An educator is defined as someone who has a chance to teach and to learn in every interaction with another person. As auxiliaries function in campus environments, it is important to position each operation to reflect the academic mission of the institution. Adding the educator dimension to the various hats auxiliary professionals wear enables auxiliary services to speak a common language with colleagues from academic departments, as well as other campus support units. The academic side of the house develops and implements the academic mission while the auxiliaries provide support to the academic mission. By extension, each auxiliary staff member can then function as an educator. Whether the role is food preparation, bookstore cashier or driving the campus bus, the staff members who see themselves as educators will be able to better understand how their function fits into the overall campus mission.

The bottom line for a college or university is to educate students. Auxiliaries have a key role to play in supporting that goal. For many years, the only question that was asked of the auxiliaries was“How was the financial performance for the last quarter?” Truly successful businesses consider more than the last quarter and more than the fiscal bottom line. As the businesses on college and university campuses, auxiliaries must have a more comprehensive approach to management than just the financial picture. Auxiliaries must establish an operating purpose and a set of operating principles that will guide the decision-making process. The purpose and the principles must be tied to the mission of the institution. Staff members are able to fulfill their role as educators through an attitude and actions that support the mission and thereby serve student customers. Recognition of the many aspects of the bottom line allows management to make decisions about staffing, purchasing, travel and construction in concert with the institution’s goals. Without question, the revenues provided by auxiliaries are of critical importance, but so too is the student development role that auxiliary services fill. In short, the suggested perspective provides a comprehensive view of student, auxiliary services and institutional needs, and helps to meet the campus community’s needs today and simultaneously shape a vision for the future.

While the accountants may be interested primarily in the additional revenue that auxiliary services provide to higher education institutions, the auxiliaries’ role in student learning and personal development offers so much more to the campus community than just critical revenue. Auxiliaries are many things: retail venues, training arenas for student employees, and culinary and shopping experiences. Student development is enhanced through the skills that students learn from campus auxiliaries. Student employees garner practical training from jobs in campus services. This practical knowledge only serves to enhance the theories that they are presented with and discuss in the classroom. Moreover, in light of consumer expectations and the savvy of contemporary students, the convenience, quality and value provided through auxiliary services cannot be underestimated. The value of campus services in student recruitment and retention is increasingly important as students seek out the best academic and community fit in which to pursue higher learning.

The contributions of auxiliary services are not limited to the aforementioned fiscal, student development and consumer benefits. Typically, auxiliary service leaders are the campus entrepreneurs who handle the vexing challenges that other campus employees are unwilling or unable to address appropriately. In addition, these creative leaders are willing to select the best operating method for the auxiliary unit on their campuses, regardless of whether they self-operate, outsource or institute a hybrid operating structure. Regardless of the operating method chosen, superior campus service is the desired outcome. Auxiliary leaders are truly important resources who make necessary and desired functions that are difficult or disorganized come together to serve the needs of the broad campus community.

As described in the study conducted by Student engagement: Pathways to college success (National Survey of Student Engagement [2004], Bloomington: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research), the research clearly demonstrates that students who devote time“to preparing for class, co-curricular activities and on-campus work are all positively related with other engagement items and self-reported educational and personal goals.” With the critical, dual bottom lines of fiscal solvency and educational attainment, knowing how to help students engage is a sound management decision. Some of the ways students engage are in areas that auxiliaries work with directly, such as the residence hall, food service and the student union. Others are in the academic areas of the college. Auxiliaries have a role to play in both in order to assist students to engage in the life of the campus. Finding ways to connect the two is a worthwhile challenge and a realistic expectation for campus auxiliary organizations.

The businesses of the college and university must be about more than just the financial bottom line. Auxiliary can be defined as supplementary. The role of supplementing the academic mission of the campus and serving both the short- and long-term needs of our student customers is what auxiliary services is all about. Balancing the operating unit’s and institutional financial needs with student engagement elements is a difficult but essential role for auxiliary services. From an individual institutional and higher education perspective, the bottom line includes finances, student employment, necessary and convenient campus services, student recruitment and retention aids, and avenues for enhancing the overall campus community. The real bottom line for auxiliary services is serving our students and the broader campus community by providing both financial resources and student development opportunities that enhance the lives of a broad array of campus constituents and, ultimately, our society.

Bruce A. Jacobs, Ed.D., is vice chancellor for Auxiliary Services and Programs at Indiana University Bloomington. He is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program. He can be reached at 812/855-2309 or [email protected] Jeffrey S. Pittman, Ph.D., is vice president for Student Services at Regent University. Dr. Pittman is also currently serving as president of the National Association of College Auxiliary Services. He can be reached at 757/226-4106 or [email protected]